In it’s continuing quest to open a new location on the Lower East Side, Soho House is offering to establish a dedicated community space in its building at 139 Ludlow St. Nick Jones, the global membership club’s CEO, detailed the proposal in two conversations with The Lo-Down this week.
Twice in the past few months, Soho House has briefly appeared and then withdrawn from Community Board 3’s liquor licensing docket, the company citing the need to build more neighborhood support for the new club in the former Nieberg Funeral Home building. There have been a series of open houses there, including at least one this week attended by Jones, who founded the private club in London in 1995 for “those in film, media and creative industries.” There are now locations in places like Berlin, Toronto, Los Angeles and in the Meatpacking District here in New York.
Standing outside the Ludlow Street property Monday night, Jones said it has become clear that some people find the concept of a private club on the Lower East Side off-putting. Based on the feedback he and other Soho House representatives have heard, Jones said, he plans to set aside a permanent space in the building for a community facility. It would be free, accessible to the public, with a separate entrance. The idea is to work with the community board to solicit input about what type of space the neighborhood wants and needs. In addition, Jones is looking at providing some public access to other portions in the club, including possibly the gymnasium.
On April 4, the State Liquor Authority denied a full liquor license for a proposed Latin-themed restaurant at 106 Rivington St., which is just around the corner from the site Soho House owns. During that hearing, SLA Chairman Dennis Rosen called the area “one of the most (liquor license) saturated areas in the city, probably in the world.” State law requires an applicant seeking a permit within 500 feet of three or more existing permits to prove a “public benefit” in establishing an additional licensed venue. CB3, an advisory body, goes one step further, placing restrictions on licenses in over-saturated areas. Ludlow Street is one of these designated areas.
The LES Dwellers, a neighborhood group that successfully fought the 106 Rivington St. application, has made its opposition to Soho House on the Lower East Side clear. In a statement sent to The Lo-Down last night, the organization noted that there are already 51 licensed establishments within 500 feet of the proposed club. “We know that Soho House will bring more traffic, more noise, more drunkenness, and more pollution to our tiny, congested area,” organizers wrote. But at the same time the group seems open to discussing a community facility:
What about creating a community space where local residents can hold meetings? Artist studios? Programs for children? Services for youth? Maybe that rooftop should become a free, public garden for everyone? The burden of proof is on Soho House to demonstrate public benefit. To many, this application is no different than any other nightclub. We don’t need more late-night fully licensed venues, especially with an enormous capacity. The first step is not acting like the private club they intend by restricting the discourse to one-on-one conversations. Face the community. Hold a public forum and listen to what the residents have to say. Let us hear from one another. Let us share our questions, concerns, and opinions freely.
Soho House is expected to be on CB3’s May liquor license agenda when it’s published at the end of this month.